Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Teaching Creationism and Intelligent Design as Science in Public Schools

About a month ago I got a Linked-In notification of a post on the American Physical Society group about a White House petition to ban the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design as Science.  Being an educator who takes science literacy seriously, I happily signed the petition.

The petition was motivated by the relentless push of fundamentalists to teach Creationism and Intelligent Design as part of the Science curriculum in public schools.  I was surprised by the criticisms posted in response to the petition.  Below are the critical comments and my response.

You are trying to ban free speech. This is not an issue of free speech. The petition would only ban the teaching of Creationism and Intelligent Design AS science in public schools.

Not everything true is science. Science is a method that has been shown to be incredibly successful in understanding and controlling the material world.  Because Creationism and Intelligent Design do not provide falsifiable hypotheses, they are religion not science.  It is disingenuous to teach religion as science.

If science is all one can teach then education is reduced to propaganda.  We should only teach science in a science class.  There are plenty of non-science classes in the public schools.  Nobody is calling for only teaching science, though I think we need way more science education.

Who controls what is science?  Nobody controls science.  It is not a hierarchical system like a church where rules are handed down from authority.  Scientists pose hypotheses and do experiments to test hypotheses.  Once a huge body of evidence explains many things in a simple way, it is elevated to the status of a theory.  Scientists gather theories and distil them into books to help others learn what is known.

I know a number of big science personalities that act as bullies against even other scientists for any idea that is not pure status quo. The status quo is routinely turned on its head as new evidence accumulates.  A scientist may be protecting his or her turf, but the community as a whole moves (sometimes glacially) in the direction that evidence takes it.  Many of the greatest ideas were proposed by young whipper snappers, which have become the basis of many of our most successful theories.

Banning the theory of creationism and ID sounds inconsistent with the scientific method. Scientifically we don't ban theories, we simply conclude that the theory is not supported by experimental results.Scientists are not banning Creationism and Intelligent Design.  The petition specifically bans only the teaching of Creationism and ID as science.

Wow, it is a bit disturbing to know that there are those who think that banning ideas is in harmony with our Constitution. Many have heard that old saying, "The church is a refuge for scoundrels". That truism is even truer for "science". Indeed, before condemning the teaching of "Creationism" in schools, one should feel some obligation to define "science". It most controversial discussions, the subject being discussed is never succinctly defined. Science has a precise and hopefully universally-known definition which is well stated on Wikipedia as follow: Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge"[1]) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.[2][3][4] In an older and closely related meaning, "science" also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied. A practitioner of science is known as a scientist.

It is said history repeat itself. This petition remember me the French revolution and the campaign waged by the radicals to dechristianize France under the same banner, the age of reason and how Maximilien Robespierre delivered his speech in the festival of reason (The Cult of Reason), and also remember me the Stalinists when their leader Stalin said: "There are three things that we do to disabuse the minds of our seminary students. We had to teach them the age of the earth, the geologic origin, and Darwin's teachings". In both cases the radicals used the same tool to eliminate their opposing views, they used the power of government.  Science has determined the age of the earth, describes its geological origin, and understands the evolutionary process.  Each of these areas meets the definition of science.  The fact that some ruthless individuals in the past advocated for science is irrelevant.  Also, the goal of the petition is not to use government to snuff out religion, only to not teach Creationism and ID as science.

I won't be signing. Why get involved in debates about the unprovable? Evolution (of new species) and creationism/ID are all unprovable. I see a magazine cover on the news stands this week with Bill Nye "fighting" for evolution - I guess - he likes to debate the ID folks, but he can't prove anything either. Science never proves anything.  However, there is overwhelming evidence for evolution that has met rigorous scientific testing, so scientists accept it.  It is a false dichotomy to say two propositions are equivalent because they or both not 100% provable.  In these cases, the preponderance of evidence is used to make the choice. 

 I'm afraid if this banning happen we are going to end up with the burning of the books of creationism and ID in Washington, D.C. and the professors who insist to teach creationism and ID are going to be arrested (because it is illegal), just like what happened in Germany in May 1933. I mean the Nazi book burnings.  The petition does not prohibit the teaching of Creationism and ID, only teaching these topics as science in public schools.  It is frankly insulting to equate Nazis with those who defend science education.

Today's great theory is tomorrow's folly! The question whether our reality came about through creation or evolution is characteristically a 19th century question. Today, with our understanding of relativity and our technological advances, no scientist would ask such a question. However, the fact that there is a large body of scientists and creationists still asking and fighting over such a question, is a subject of keen scientific investigation in itself. For that reason, we cannot ban hypotheses. It's a very unscientific thing to do. The fact that lots of people are fighting for Creationism is not a sign that there are legitimate scientific issues that remain unresolved.  Creationism is not science because it offers no testable hypotheses.  The fight is between science and those who do not like where the evidence is leading.

Stating the earth is flat is not fraud in my opinion; it is inaccurate and lacking critical scientific evidence and completeness. Creationism and ID are not amenable to test under the scientific method and therefore not fraud to state in public--you cannot disprove or prove scientifically the existence of God. Why do you jump to conclusions and say it is falsehood. How do you know the context that creationism or ID is presented in every classroom where it is done. Because Creationism and ID are not amenable to scientific tests, it should not be taught as science.  This is not an issue of fraud.  At least the flat earth is a local approximation to a sphere but Creationism and ID do not overlap with anything that is testable.

Facts are debated before the are established. Many theories and dogma that were believed to be fact have been discarded in the past when new information displaced them. Why should Creationism/ID be any different? The truth here is that you are being even more dogmatic than the Creationists/ID whom you are trying to ban. They are not advocating the banning of science or evolution. They just want equal time for their dogma, theory or whatever....truth shall prevail. The scientific method itself is dogma that needs to be scientifically validated from time to time as we learn more about our reality. I learned the scientific method and I learned creation. Today I am in a position to make arguments for or against either of them....they both have "issues". Do you want future generations to be ignorant simply because you fall on one side of the argument? Asserting that "Creationism/ID is not science therefore should not be taught in a science class" Is equally foolish because the scientific method knows nothing sacred. Everything is subject to investigation. I would doubt that Francis Bacon or Karl Popper would agree that there are any subjects which are "out of bounds" for scientific inquiry.  Science is not a dogma, but a way of gathering information that leads to a body of knowledge that is objectively true, in the sense that its elements are testable and reproducible.  Creationism and ID are dogma that cannot be tested.  Competing scientific hypotheses deserve equal time, but Creationism and ID are not science so should not be presented as a competing scientific view.  Popper and Bacon would disagree with you.  Popper proposed that only falsifiable propositions are testable, and religious dogma is not.  Similarly, Bacon espoused the scientific method. Creationism and ID are not suitable candidates for study based on the nature of the claim.

Belief in either ID or Spontaneous Generation origin theory (neither are yet proven and re-producible law) takes a leap of faith. What is unscientific about considering more than one origin theory? It appears that many SG advocates are emotionally invested in their origin theory, and this makes than uncomfortable with comparison beyond what they can demonstrate.  My personal observation of trends is that science is on the verge of proving ID of new life forms, and this makes SG 'experts' more than a little uncomfortable -- to the point of demanding censorship of ID origins theory. If ID presented testable and falsifiable hypotheses, it would be the object of scientific study; and, if the hypotheses were shown to be true, ID would become accepted on the evidence.  SG theory, as you call it, has many testable hypotheses.  For example, how are complex molecules made?  ID people say GOD created them.  What is the testable hypothesis?  None are offered.  Scientists propose that SG requires that early earth conditions should spontaneously yield complex molecules from simple ones.  Miller and Urey  did  the experiment by simulating early earth conditions in a test tube.  They exposed  water (H2O), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), and hydrogen (H2) (known early earth atmosphere and oceans) to an electric discharge (lightening).  A goo forms on the bottom of the test tube.  An analysis shows that it contains amino acids - the building blocks of life.  There are thousands of similar experiments that test various aspects of SG.  This is science.  ID is not.

There are at least a billion people who pay taxes and believe in Creationism....and you want their children to grow up ignorant of the implications of what they are supposed to believe? About there being two creation stories; have you heard of Einstein's twin brothers analogy? While it has its issues, those issues are not germane to it's analogy of the two creation stories. In my view both the evolution and creation narratives suffer from the concepts brought about by the twin brother analogy. Creationism IS a creation story and evolution, big bang cosmology, etc. IS science.  Teach science as science and Creationism as religion.  People can teach their children whatever they want, but in a science class, we are paying schools to teach science so that we can produce scientists who cure diseases, make our lives comfortable, and give us leisure to pursue our interests.  The money spent on science returns dividends that surpass the investment.  That is why we invest in science.

Parting Comments

People take advantage of what science produces but are uncomfortable when the knowledge gained conflicts with their religious beliefs.  The comments posted here testify to the respect that Science has won; everyone wants their beliefs to be associated with science as proof of their veracity.  Since Science carries so much weight, it is natural for Creationists and IDers to

push there agendas by forcing these topics into science classes.

Science, unlike people, is honest.  It is the best process to create an accurate representation of the material world that allows us to control nature and understand our origins.  The scientific method works best when its practitioners approach it without preconceived notions about how the world should be.  Forcing Creationism and ID into a Science curriculum corrupts the process and at its root is a dishonest act of self interest.

Those of you who think that banning the teaching of creationism is stifling free speech should read the decision of Judge Jones in the famous Dover case. He is a conservative christian appointed by Bush and gave the most impeccably logical arguments of why ID/creationism is not science and should be banned from being taught as science.

It's ironic that so many people use the argument that we can't disprove religion/creationism/ID so leave us alone and let it be taught in schools. This is exactly what makes religion/creationism/ID not science so it should not be taught as such.

The bottom line is that we are wasting precious classroom time teaching non-science that should be dedicated to teaching science; and in the process making students willfully ignorant citizens who will not believe that HIV is real, that vaccines cause autism, and that climate change must be a conspiracy because it snowed in my backyard.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Trying to get the price of internet service from Time Warner -- A transcript

After hooking you with introductory deals, internet service providers raise the rates. Seeing great rates advertised, I was in the market for upgrading my bandwidth with Time Warner and couldn't get a straight answer about how much it would cost to get faster service. Instead, the rep kept on trying to sell me bundled packages and would not tell me how much the bundle would cost after the 12 month introductory period.

Below is a transcript of the online chat. It took 30 minutes before I got an answer. Fortunately, I was able to read emails and do some work while I waited for the rep to respond.

info: Thank you for contacting Time Warner Cable. A representative will be with you shortly.

info: You are now chatting with Thalia.

info: ** Please do not share credit card information in this window. If credit card information is required, the agent will push a separate and secure form to you.  **

Thalia: Thank you for contacting Time Warner Cable, home of the best Triple Play offer. My name is Thalia, would you like to learn more about our current Triple Play packages?

Mark: Not interested in triple play.

Thalia: I'll be happy to assist you with your concern.

Mark: I already have internet service with you. Would you please check what internet speed I now have and what other options are available? I see that there is an online deal for $64.99 for the ultimate 50 package.

Thalia: So I can properly address your concern, let me check your account first.

Mark: OK

Thalia: May I have the account number?

Mark: I don't have it on me. Can you use my phone number?

Thalia: Yes that's fine.

Thalia: May I have it please?


Thalia: Thank you.

Thalia: Bear with me please.

Mark: OK

Thalia: Please verify the last 4 of your SSN.

Mark: *****

Thalia: Thank you. I can see here that you have the Turbo internet.

Thalia: I can add home phone for only 10.00 plus I can upgrade you internet for only additional 30.00 monthly.

Mark: Not interested in phone.

Mark: I am online at the page where I can select the Ultimate 50 package. If I select this, will my service be upgraded to the 50 without the need to install a new modem?

Thalia: After that you need to swap the equipment to the nearest TWC store.

Mark: Also, I think I am paying somewhere around $70 so do you mean I would need to pay $100 for a package that is offered for $64 online?

Thalia: Yes you are paying a standard rate, adding phone will help you get the promo price again.

Mark: So what exactly is the rate if I do not get the phone. The price I see online for $64.99 is internet only.

Thalia: The 64.99 is only for new ciustomers.

Mark: So what is the price for me?

Thalia: If you won't add phone, monthly will be $90+

Mark: And what is it with a phone?

Mark: And what do you mean by $90+. I want to know the total charge.

Thalia: With our home phone service, you can do unlimited calling within US Canada Puerto Rico and Mexico plus free 13 calling features including Call waiting, 3 way calling, Enhanced *****, Anonymous call rejection, and Charged block. This is a good alternative for being over charge for your mobile phone charges while calling your family.

Thalia: If we add phone the monthly will only be 10 home phone + 69.99 ultimate internet + 5.99 modem lease.

Mark: IS that forever or only the first year?

Thalia: If we don't add phone, then the monthly is more than 90+.

Thalia: This one will be good for 12 months as well. You may still modify your account without extra cost.

Mark: What will it be after 12 months at the present rate?

Thalia: The pone can go up to 40.00.

Thalia: But before that, you will receive an email informing you about the promothat is about to be expired.

Mark: OK, the phone can go up to 40, what about the internet?

Thalia: For the internet, its standard price is like what I mentioned earlier.

Mark: So after 12 months it will still be 69.99 for the service and 5.99 for the modem.

Thalia: Within the promo period the monthly is 69.99 internet + 5.99 modem + 10 home phone.

Mark: But what about after 12 months?

Thalia: When promo expird, the internet can go up to $90+

Mark: OK, could you please tell me the rates for me today for the following internet only services: Standard Turbo Extreme Ultimate

Thalia: Here are the promo price for the following: standard internet 39.99, turbo 49.99, extreme 59.99, and ultimate 69.99.

Thalia: All of that is less than $5 online because it is only for new customer.

Mark: But I am not a new customer. What would it be for me?

Thalia: You already have an account with us, so we can not apply the less than $5.

Mark: That's fine, so does that mean that I will pay standard internet 44.99, turbo 54.99, extreme 64.99, and ultimate 74.99?

Thalia: The prices you typed is for news customers.

Mark: SO I am asking what is it for me right now?

Thalia: If we add home phone, you may get the promo prices again which are standard internet 39.99, turbo 49.99, extreme 59.99, and ultimate 69.99.

Mark: But if I do not want the home phone, what are the prices to me NOW?

Thalia: Well if you don't want the home phone, these are the prices for the internet speed you might get: standard internet 57.99, turbo 67.99, extreme 77.99, and ultimate 87.99. Equipments are not yet included.

Mark: OK, thank you. That is the info I wanted.

Thalia: To help you save money,

Thalia: we can add home phone.

Mark: I understand. Thanks you.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'm Depressed

There is so much to be depressed about.

ISIS (or ISIL), a group of religious fanatics, is marching through Syria and Iraq, beheading, crucifying, and killing all whose beliefs they find offensive.  Sadly, they are using hardware that the U.S. gave to the Iraqi army, whose soldiers fled when ISIS approached their positions. In the meantime, the U.S. is showing its impotence with air strikes that don't seem to be doing much.  Turkey is standing by idly as ISIL is taking over the border town of Kobane.  By the time we take serious action, it will be too late.

Israel's action on the Gaza Strip might have achieved its military objectives, but 2100 Palestinians were killed.  In recent interviews in the border regions, hatred between the Israelis and Palestinians is heating up, which will undoubtedly set the stage for future conflict.  During an interview of Palestinian school children, rockets flew overhead from Hamas positions.  They cheered, exclaiming that they hoped the missiles would hit the United States. 

Russia claims it is not supporting the rebels in Eastern Ukraine.  Remember those insignia-less soldiers driving unmarked military vehicles in Crimea who Putin claimed were not Russian?  They were.  Satellites clearly show tanks crossing the Russian border to Eastern Ukraine.  Igor Girkin, the self-proclaimed defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, boasted about shooting down a plane on Russian social media before he knew it was a commercial airliner. Later, against all objective evidence, Putin claimed that the Ukrainian military had targeted the jet.  The rebels left the bodies to rot in the fields and prevented Dutch authorities from recovery operations.  The rebels, however, found the time to desecrate the bodies -- removing jewelry, rings and other valuables.

Putin continues to lie about Russia's involvement as the west allows this unjust war to rage.  The fighters are fired up by a vision of making a worldwide Slavic utopia.  Putin, who is clearly lying, is getting away with this farce, laughing at the impotence of the west, whose leaders care more about losing automotive contracts than they care about a new and dangerous Russia.  Putin is able to get away with his actions at home by controlling the press and firing playing on Russian nationalism.

If humans don't kill each other, Ebola has come on the scenes to finish the job.  This deadly disease
has found its way into Monrovia, with a metropolitan area of almost a million people with high population density, making it more likely that the virus will spread.  Based on the known numbers of infected individuals, the virus' incubation period, and transmission rates, the number of people estimated to contract Ebola in the next month exceeds the number of available beds.  Western aid in adding to facilities will not be enough.

Closer to home, a person who helped treat Thomas Eric Duncan (the first case diagnosed in the U.S.) may be the first person to contract the disease while in the United States. The health care worker is from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital and tested positive on Saturday after reporting a low-grade fever Friday. The CDC is working to confirm the diagnosis.  Will an Ebola outbreak hit the U.S.?

Now that I have finished grading an exam and writing an NSF proposal, I can spend some time doing research, which will happily distract me from the ills of the world.

Good night...